The Irish Apple Edition
Where we discuss what should and should not be done in regard to national borders and taxes.
Apple, the company, exists and does not exist. It exists very firmly in reality if you wish to buy its products or contract for services. It has no legal geographical existence for tax purposes, that is, it cannot be taxed because it has no locality at which it can be taxed.
Apple in this way is almost identical to the character in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Hotblack Desiato, a rock singer, who is “dead for tax reasons.” Corporate amorality has reproduced Douglas Addams humor.
It’s fascinating. Modern tax avoidance methods allow multi-nationals to suck up subsidies and the countless benefits of organized societies from education to roads without so much as paying a dime in support. If you were at a safe distance in a society where the tax burden hadn’t been shifted to middle class incomes, it would probably be funny. You’d think, “What kind of silly people would allow that nonsense?” But we are the people whose elected representatives allow and facilitate this kind of “globalism.”
This is truly wretched business ethics. There is an implied social contract under which we cooperate for the common good and Apple chooses to abuse all of us by evading its responsibility.
I never get to be consultant or even work very much in the field. And this is because I write these kinds of posts. What is wanted is a general denunciation of workers stealing from their employers or a long winded diatribe aimed a worker sloth. Writing that gets you jobs. Writing that international business acts in many ways as parasitical pirates makes businessmen uneasy about their own morality and beliefs and if there is anything they loath it is doubts about there own worthiness. In their own eyes, they are doing “God’s work” much like the Wehrmacht.
But tax avoidance is a legitimate subject for business ethics and many, many companies are evading their most basic responsibilities.
Please Like, Subscribe, and Share!
From the Blog, Random Public Journal
Years of Irish wheeler-dealing directed towards attracting business from multinational corporations has produced an at least morally bankrupt near zero rate of corporate tax. While on the books Ireland has two rates for corporation tax – 12.5% for trading income and 25% for investment income, special deals negotiated by the government with the bigger fish in the Irish pond has resulted in companies like Apple paying no more than 0.005% on declared wealth generated in Ireland. In the last few days the European commission has called last orders on this shady dealing and has called in almost €13 billion in unpaid taxes from Apple.
Ireland – of all European member states – could do with this money. In over a decade of failed state “leprechaun” economics Ireland has found itself in a deep dark hole. Social welfare and spending cuts have ensured that more Irish people emigrate or die as a direct result of these decisions. Lower levels of real employment, zero hour contracts, a housing crisis, and levels of homelessness as high as the years of the Great Famine have brought Ireland to its knees, and yet the suits in government are “outraged” that Europe would dare to help them with their money problems. What they have done instead is take the side of the corporate giant and keep up the policy of screwing Irish people.
The international tax system is only as strong as its weakest link. This is the clear message that the European Commission sent on Tuesday when it announced that Apple will have to repay as much as €13bn ($14.5bn) in back taxes due to illegal Irish tax breaks it has received.
Tax justice advocates across the globe lauded the decision as a big step toward tax fairness. Unfortunately, an immediate critical response from US lawmakers, coupled with a slick and disingenuous public relations play from Apple CEO Tim Cook, suggests that American taxpayers will probably continue to pay the price for Apple’s tax dodging for some time to come. This is a shame, because the commission’s goal of ending tax haven abuse is one in which the United States should, and ultimately must, be a full participant.
The facts of the Apple case are straightforward: with the blessing of the Irish government, Apple created a byzantine network of subsidiaries to shelter its profits in an entity that was a tax resident of no country. As a result, billions of dollars of Apple’s income have flowed almost tax free through Ireland’s tax system. The European Commission estimates that in 2014, one of Apple’s Irish affiliates paid a tax rate of just 0.005% on its Irish profits.
Was this week a turning point? It has certainly been expensive for the biggest stock-market listed company on the planet.
Of course, Apple can afford that €13bn (£11bn) tax bill that may be heading for the chief financial officer’s in-tray. And who knows whether it will actually have to pay up.
Perhaps the planned appeal will be successful. But it certainly feels like a very important moment in the battle to get multinational businesses to pay what many governments – as well as ordinary people – think would be their fair share of tax.
It is true that this episode has not brought unity among the governments concerned. The United States in particular is livid about the way the European Commission has gone about trying to get Apple to cough up.
But despite the spat, there’s still a degree of underlying common purpose. It is driven in part by a recognition that voters, many of them at least, detest what they see as the devious behaviour of many multinationals and some wealthy individuals.
From Real-World Economics Review (My favorite comment. jp)
Ireland (the government plus the private sector) has by far the largest net international debt of all EU countries (measured as a % of GDP). To an extent this is caused because the Irish state was pressured, by its EU friends, to borrow money from other countries to bail out (the creditors of) Irish banks. The large and fast deterioration of the Irish position in 2014 and 2015 might be caused because large international companies finance their Irish headquarters with inter company international debt. But whatever the cause – it is ridiculous that a country like Greece, which is in a much better state when it comes to its net international investment position, is pressured (among others: by Ireland!) to cut pensions, sell government assets and raise taxes – while the Irish government even refuses to collect taxes due.
Earlier the European Commission said Ireland had enabled Apple to pay substantially less than other businesses, in effect paying a corporate tax rate of no more than 1%.
Ireland and Apple both said they disagreed with the record penalty and would appeal against it.
“Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies – this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
The standard rate of Irish corporate tax is 12.5%. The Commissions’s investigation concluded that Apple had effectively paid 1% tax on its European profits in 2003 and about 0.005% in 2014.
Ms Vestager said that the tax agreement reached between Ireland and Apple meant that the company’s taxable profits “did not correspond to economic reality”.